Talking recovery in Greenfield: State hears western Mass. concerns on recovery coach profession


  • Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders speaks as Gov. Charlie Baker listens during a news conference Oct. 15, 2015, at the Statehouse, in Boston. AP FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/9/2019 11:09:34 PM
Modified: 5/9/2019 11:09:23 PM

GREENFIELD — Amy Ford sees the field of recovery coaching in the Wild West right now. 

“We are here trying to figure it out,” said Ford, who leads training to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor at Greenfield Community College.

The Recovery Coach Commission, created in August 2018 by Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, came before Greenfield residents — and western Massachusetts at large — Thursday evening at GCC for one of its handful of listening sessions aimed at understanding the evolving profession.

The field of recovery coaching is not yet clearly defined, which is part of what the state commission is set out to learn more about. In general, people who become recovery coaches tend to be in recovery themselves, and provide peer support for people in various stages of recovery. The field requires coaches to have knowledge of mental health, trauma, addiction and understanding of health care systems around them. 

Dozens of local and regional community leaders in the recovery community voiced their concerns about the barriers in the profession that brings people, who are often in recovery, to assist those during their own recovery. 

Among the recovery community in Greenfield, recovery coaching has become a field of study that many people have entered. Intensive trainings to become a recovery coach have been offered at GCC in recent years. 

Advocates voiced concern about: a lack of access to training in western Massachusetts; a need for the profession by organizations from the top-down; fair reimbursement for the work; establishing a support system for the coaches; and the desire for some regulation from the state.

“A recovery coach is probably a person’s greatest asset,” Paul Alves, a recovery coach based in the Springfield area, said at the session. 

Alves said that while he helps to train other recovery coaches, many of whom are often energized to help others in the field, “they’re at the mercy of what the organizations require of them.”

The commission is working on gathering information and recommending standards for credentialing for recovery coaches.  

A major theme during the listening session was to make sure the professional organizations that are hiring recovery coaches are using those new hires to the best of their ability.

Debra McLaughlin, the coordinator of the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, told the commission that organizations can become more trauma-informed and sensitive. 

“That’ll really help hand in hand with the important work that recovery coaches do in the community,” McLaughlin said. 

Advocates, like Amie Hyson, who is a recovery coach who works with The RECOVER Project in Greenfield, asked the commission to help coaches avoid burnout. This in part is to support a pay that is a livable wage and in part to provide additional services that support the coaches.

Karran Larson, a recovery coach in the area who specifically trains the deaf, said there is not enough support in the field for the deaf community. She also noted the challenges for her clients to pay for the training — telling stories of people having to resort to GoFundMe fundraisers and posting them to Facebook to support their training. 

Linda Sarage, the former longtime director of The RECOVER Project, said it’s vital to increase the available training and multilingual access to them while decreasing the barriers of cost. She reminded the commission that Pittsfield and Greenfield are not necessarily close. 

“We’re weeding out people from particular backgrounds and particular demographics who would be our most valuable assets,” Sarage said. “How do we make it more accessible?”

Sarah Ahern, an active member and advocate of the recovery community in town, emphasized the sheer importance of a recovery coach. 

“The peer-to-peer model is so important because as a person in recovery, I’ve had way too much clinical interface,” Ahern said. “When you’re sitting across from someone who has walked your path, the trust is a little different. The trust is there right away.” 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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